ST. CLAIRSVILLE - The top-seeded St. Clairsville Red Devils found themselves directly in the danger zone Thursday evening.
Upstart Carrollton came out of the gates hot, while the Red Devils did not.
It allowed the Warriors to build a 16-6 lead after one and a 26-17 upperhand at halftime during the Division II Eastern District Championship at Ohio University Eastern.
However, the senior-dominated Red Devils simply took the game over.
More specifically, Dan Monteroso - the soon-to-be three-time all-Ohioan - simply saddled the Red Devils on his back once again and led the Red Devils to a 67-58 victory against the Warriors (16-9) before a jam-packed crowd.
"We said some things in the lockerroom that you probably can't say in public," Monteroso confessed. "We did what we had to do. We created turnovers and did a heck of a job of scoring off those turnovers. I thought we really put the clamps down in the second half."
Behind another 40-point explosion from Monteroso, the Red Devils (22-2) are headed to the regional tournament at Ohio University next Thursday for a 6:15 p.m. tip against New Philadelphia. It marks St. Clairsville's second consecutive regional trip and the second in school history.
"It's very, very special," coach Kim Clifford said. "It took us a long time to get there and we're going to savor this one just like we did last year's. This is just as special, if not more special because we get another week to practice together."
The second-half flurry was nothing that Clifford, his coaches and the droves of Red Devils' faithful who turned out hadn't seen before.
"For the years these guys have played, they've had the ability to turn it up when they have to," Clifford said. "A lot of teams might have folded the way we played early, but we didn't We just kept battling and battling. Give Carrollton credit though because they just made shot after shot and every time we seemed to make a run, they countered it."
Monteroso, who was held scoreless in the first quarter, started to pick it up in the second, scoring all 11 of his team's points.
"I looked up and saw that Dan hadn't scored and we were in a little bit of trouble," Clifford said. "He got it going, though and had a really good final three quarters."
After the spirited discussion that Monteroso referenced, the Red Devils came alive in the third.
While the Purdue-bound Monteroso scored 11 more, seniors Jerrid Marhefka, Adam Jeffries and Riley Carlton all connected on triples in the third.
"We had some guys hit some threes that really opened up the floor a little bit," Clifford said. "Those guys just came out in the second half on a mission like they have the last three years, that's how they've played."
Despite the Red Devils erupting for 25 points in the third, Carrollton still managed to hold a 43-42 upperhand as Akron-bound senior Stephen Ericksen continued to score at will on the interior. He went for a team-high 22 points.
Carlton put St. Clairsville on top when be nailed a triple from the top of the key to begin the fourth. After an Ericksen goal tied it on the other end, Monteroso took over.
"That was a huge stretch," Clifford said. "I thought that was the biggest turning point in the game."
He went on a 9-0 run by himself, that included a four-point play, a scrum on the floor that led to a leak-out flush and one of the biggest plays when he swatted Ericksen, rebounded the ball and went coast-to-coast for a conventional 3-point play.
"The place erupted during that stretch," Monteroso said. "On that 4-point play, the ball hit every part of the rim. I was looking and using some body english to get it to go down. We're happy to have gotten the win."
The Warriors crept within five at 54-49, but each time Monteroso had the answer. Between Carlton's three and a pair of charity tosses by Marhefka in the game's wanning moments, Monteroso scored 19 consecutive points.
"He's a monster," said Carrollton head coach Matt Voll of Monteroso. "We tried to have people there, guard the gaps and still guard their shooters on the outside, but they got clicking. Monteroso got going and then the rest of their guys got going."
Carrollton, which wouldn't go away quietly, was within three at 60-57, but St. Clairsville scored seven of the game's final eight down the stretch to salt it away.
Monteroso's scoring production was complemented Marhefka's eight, Jeffries' seven and Carlton's six.
Ericksen was joined in double figures by Zade Dietz, who finished with 14.
St. Clairsville 67, Carrollton 58
St. Clairsville 6 11 25 25 - 67
Carrollton 10 10 17 15 - 58
ST. CLAIRSVILLE: Marhefka 2, 2-2 8; Jeffries 2, 2-3 7; Monteroso 14, 10-14 40; Carlton 2, 0-0 6; Giffin 1, 0-0 2; Campbell 1, 1-2 4; Burghy 0, 0-0 0; Totals: 22, 15-21 67. 3-pointers: Monteroso 2, Carlton 2, Marhefka 2, Jeffries.
CARROLLTON: Peterson 2, 1-2 5; Hartong 2, 1-2 5; Pesuik 2, 0-0 4; Collins 2, 2-2 8; Dobrijevic 0, 0-0 0; Dietz 5, 0-0 14; Ericksen 10, 2-4 22; Totals: 23, 6-12 58. 3-pointers: Dietz 4, Collins 2.